NEW BRITAIN - The CCSU menâ€™s basketball team knew it was in for a transitional season this year. Coming into the 2019-20 campaign with one of the youngest teams in the country and 10 first-year players on the roster, the Blue Devils were expecting a year filled with adjustments and goals that extended beyond wins and losses.
After starting the season 0-12, and as one of the last teams in the country to get in the win column, it looked like those adjustments and signs of growth were nowhere to be found. But over the last three weeks, CCSUâ€™s group of youngsters is starting to look like a team that is heading in the right direction. Buried in those blowout losses at the start of conference play was a foundation for this all-out rebuild.
â€śWeâ€™re getting better and slowly progressing,â€ť freshman Myles Baker said after scoring a career-high 24 points in a 75-70 win over Bryant on Saturday afternoon. â€śItâ€™s been a tough year, but itâ€™s made us stronger mentally.â€ť
Saturdayâ€™s win over the Bulldogs was the Blue Devilsâ€™ second in their last five games, and while that mark doesnâ€™t scream positivity, the trend from where CCSU previously was shows a team thatâ€™s starting to mature.
Through their first eight games in NEC play, the Blue Devils failed to pick up a win, and lost by an average of 18.1 points per game. But after that grueling stretch came a 10-point win over Wagner and Saturdayâ€™s victory against Bryant, a team CCSU lost to just the week before. The Blue Devils have four conference losses since that 0-8 start to the NEC slate, and three have been by single digits, with the average margin of defeat just 7.5 points per game.
These narrow losses havenâ€™t been to the slouches of the conference, either. There was a seven-point loss to Saint Francis, currently 10-4 against conference opponents and third in the NEC. There was another seven-point defeat to Robert Morris, which is 11-3 in conference play and second in the NEC standings. Both of those teams represent opponents that knocked the Blue Devils around by double digits earlier in the year, showing just how far CCSU has come over the past few weeks, while sticking to its young guns through the growing pains after starting the season 1-20 overall.
â€śI think it shows weâ€™re growing,â€ť head coach Donyell Marshall said. â€śIf you look at the last three weeks, since the Wagner game, the team has been growing. I know a lot of people want to look at the wins and losses, but if you look at the games weâ€™ve been playing, even when weâ€™re down, weâ€™ve been fighting until the end.â€ť
Marshall hasnâ€™t lost faith in his young group that represents the next era of the CCSU basketball program. Coming into the season with the sixth-youngest team in the nation in terms of collective Division-I experience, Marshall started at least three first-year players each game through the first 14 regular season contests. On Saturday, six of the teamâ€™s top seven contributors in terms of minutes played were underclassmen, four of them being freshmen. In a close five-point win, three of the freshmen logged positive minutes in terms of point differential while they were on the floor, including Greg Outlaw finishing at plus-11 on the day, and Xavier Wilson at plus-8.
â€śI just think theyâ€™ve been staying together and believing,â€ť Marshall said. â€śI think they want to end this season off right and have momentum going into next year.â€ť
Hopes of a conference tournament berth are lost, but that was never the goal for this season. CCSU just wanted to see that the program was in good hands moving forward; and after a turbulent first two months, the Blue Devils are starting to show that something positive came from those losses and that the future could be a bright one.
â€śI think a lot of people are wondering where this team is going,â€ť Marshall said. â€śBut the team is using this time to come together so they can build off of it for next year.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com